3D Scanning

A 3D scanner is a device that analyses a real-world object or environment to collect data on its shape and possibly its appearance (i.e. color and texture). The collected data can then be used to construct digital 3D models. Scanning will not produce an exact copy, but a very close copy (can be up to .3mm per meter off). If precision is necessary, then designing your object in a CAD program is highly recommended.

There are two types of of 3D scans:

Hand-Held – Optimum for scanning larger objects, such as people, furniture, sculptures and buildings. Scanning time varies depending on lighting and the size of the object. Example: To scan a person’s head and shoulders (to make a bust) in a normal-lit area, it can take up to 10 minutes for a full scan. This type of scanner is not optimum for objects under 10″. Our current scanner can scan in high resolution mode with the accuracy of 0.05 mm (50 microns) and low resolution mode with an accuracy of 0.1mm (100 microns). For these scans, we charge $60/hour.

Turntable Style – Optimum for scanning objects between 6″ diameter and 4″ to 8″ tall.  We have had some success with some small items. The object is placed on the scanner and is slowly rotated as the scanner records the surface information.This type of scanner is only accurate up to 0.04mm (40 microns) of detail. We charge $50/scan. In some cases, we have to do multiple scans from different angles (i.e. scan the object, then rotate the object onto its side and scan again) to capture all sections of a part. Most scanning projects do not require more than 3 scans.

3D Scanning is Perfect For

Objects with the following characteristics generally scan well: continuous surfaces with smooth curvature; varying color or texture; matte, non-shiny surfaces; opaque finishes.

3D scanning is great for 3D capture of the human form; fabrics; stone and masonry; wood carvings; sculptures; plants, flowers and other organic objects.

Broken parts can be scanned but the surface mesh of the digitized part will have to be repaired.

3D Scanning is NOT Perfect For

3D Objects with certain characteristics may not be suitable for scanning, or may require technical workarounds to capture scans successfully. Here’s some further guidance on where scanning might not be suitable:

  • Objects with many cavities or protrusions: the scanner can only image what it ‘sees’ from its view point and cannot capture part of an object that is hidden behind another. As a general rule of thumb, a scanner can only see down ⅔ the diameter of a hole or cavity. (ex: a scanner can only capture down 0.66″ of a 1″ diameter hole).
  • Very dark objects: the object will absorb light which lowers the amount of detail (we can add a wipeable powder or reflective markers to aid in scanning).
  • Reflective or shiny objects: where light reflects off the surface to prevent accurate surface measurement (we can add a white scanning spray to temporarily dull the reflectiveness of an object. The spray evaporates after several hours, leaving virtually no residue).
  • Transparent objects: if light transmits through the surface, it will prevent accurate surface measurement (we can add a white scanning spray to temporarily dull the reflectiveness of an object. The spray evaporates after several hours, leaving virtually no residue).
  • Objects with sharp edges and corners: scanners tend to smooth flat surfaces and sharp corners.

3D People Scans

We can do full body scans, bust scans (shoulders and  head), or  just scan your head and add to another object, such as a poseable action figure. Scans of people take 10-15 minutes to complete. Multiple scans may be necessary. Scans are in full-color, but if you are opting for us to 3D print the scan, the figure would be a single color, that could be hand-painted.

We can add a scanned head to male or female 3D printed poseable action figure. This figure at 12″ size fits most 1/6 scale clothes. The figure can be printed up to 24″ tall.

Reverse Engineering

One of the biggest challenges people encounter when converting physical objects to digital is a major incompatibility between two different types of 3D models: meshes and solids. Meshes are the main output of all 3D scanners, and understood by 3D printers (STLs). A mesh represents the surface of a shape with a large number of triangles, connected edge to edge. Mesh models don’t contain any information about the object — besides the position of the triangles that define the shape. Solid models contain information about how an object is designed, and this information is encoded into the model as features in a ‘stack’ of logical steps. In a CAD designed file, it’s possible to change the dimensions for a single feature, and the rest of the model will update to accommodate the change.

Since meshes lack information about the construction of the object, the ways you can alter a mesh model are limited—(i.e. CAD software can’t directly modify meshes). If you need to make major modifications to the underlying design of a scanned part, the mesh needs to be converted to a solid CAD drawing: this process is reverse engineering. This is not a 1-step process. Complex models can take many hours to refine. We charge $65/hour for reverse engineering services.

Small Object Scanning Example

This Lego Minifig is around 3″ tall and 3d scanned using a turntable and the scanner on a tripod. In the middle image, you can see some slight imperfections in the scan data, which in some cases the scanner picked up tiny imperfections in the actual model and exaggerated them. In other cases the detail was too small or at an off angle to be properly captured. The scan was cleaned up and then 3d printed in resin at actual size.